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Patriots Must Balance Winning and Health of the Team on Sunday

With a first round bye already sewn up, Bill Belichick should try to win this game to clinch the #1 seed but at the same time managing the snaps of his key players.

Bill Belichick has some tough decisions this week.
Bill Belichick has some tough decisions this week.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots have already clinched a first round bye and will have two weeks to rest for their next game once the regular season concludes. On Sunday, the Patriots have the chance to win the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs with a victory over the 5-10 Miami Dolphins. I have no idea how the Dolphins will come out for this game, as it could be their own version of the Super Bowl or they tank this game for better draft position. The Dolphins already have a top 10 pick in the draft next year with a shot at the top 5 thanks to uninspiring losses to the 4-11 Chargers and the 5-10 Ravens. Given that their opponent is the New England Patriots, I expect them to play like it's the Super Bowl. Divisional opponents can be tough to defeat, especially against teams on the road with literally nothing to lose at this point other than the game. For the Dolphins, it's probably for pride and to keep their job the next season since changes are coming in the offseason.

The Patriots should absolutely try to win this game because the #1 seed would guarantee they host the AFC Championship Game should they make it that far. The only other team that could possibly win the top seed is the Denver Broncos, who will also be playing in a must-win game. The Patriots could theoretically just punt this game, but risk Denver winning the #1 seed unless San Diego plays their Super Bowl since they are in a similar situation as the Dolphins. At full strength, the Patriots are better equipped to win a road playoff game than any other team in the AFC. Winning the #1 seed means they won't face the Bengals and getting the #2 seed means they won't face the Jets or Steelers in the divisional round.

I believe that Bill Belichick will do what he thinks is best for the team, and if that means going all in for the #1 seed over resting players battling notable injuries so be it. The hardest part about injuries is no one can predict when and how it will happen, although I do believe that there are certain situations where you can avoid unnecessary risks. Every player is dinged up at this point and teams can only play 46 players on a given week. It will be interesting to see how BB manages the game from a coaching standpoint, because the Patriots do have something to play for this week.